What exactly is CRO and what is UX? Should we even care if they’re similar or not?
Before we jump in, these terms CRO & UX relate to techniques that website owners use to help improve the website experience which will help increase enquiries and/or sales. And, this is why I think we should care: a website that isn’t generating these isn’t doing its job.
Now for the acronyms
CRO stands for Conversion Rate Optimisation and is the process of increasing the percentage of visitors to a website that converts into customers.
UX stands for User Experience and focuses on a deeper understanding of what users need, what they value, their abilities, and also their limitations when using a website or app.
Where might you use CRO? Here’s a simple example…
Imagine you have a website selling jeans but you’re selling enough. So the website isn’t CONVERTING website visits into sales. Let’s say that the conversion RATE is less than 1%. Now, for your business to be profitable, it really needs to be OPTIMIZED so it increases to 2%.
So that’s kind of CRO right there. So here we are looking for a 100% improvement in conversions but from a very low starting point!
CRO: a game of Cat and Mouse.
If we wanted to improve the conversion to 2%, we’d use CRO to look at the main website pages. We would create different versions to test against the ones on the current website.
In most e-commerce websites and campaigns, we might have what is called a Landing Page.
Think of this as a bespoke selling page that users land on directly from digital marketing activity like a Google Pay-Per-Click ad (PPC) or an outbound email you sent out.
By taking users directly to a Landing Page (skipping the home page) helps to shorten the users journey and ensures they get the right info in one page. It also squares the circle from what they originally saw in the first click (PPC ad or email) to what they then saw in their second click.
Back to our example… conversion rate is poor as only 1% of users are actually buying. Typically, we’d solve this problem by creating a little ‘battle of the pages’ on your own website…
Let your website pages go head-to-head
So in this jeans example, we could use CRO to:
- dissect the existing (sometimes called ‘control’) landing page. Work out which parts could be OPTIMISED.
- create a new page to test that performs or converts better than the control page.
The process explained above is also known as A/B testing where you have an existing control page (A) and you are testing it against a test page (B).
Once you have created a test page (B) you can use products like Google Experiments and Visual Website Optimiser to set up these tests.
These systems are easy to use and split the traffic you drive to these pages so that a % goes to page A and the remaining traffic goes to your test page B.
A/B tests need volume
The system will then show how each page has performed. Once you have driven a decent number of visitors through the test then you’ll have an indication of which pages have the best conversion.
The winning page then becomes your ‘control’ page and you repeat the process trying to beat the control page with a new test page.
With A/B testing we limit the number of elements we change on the test page. For example, we may create a test page where the initial image of the jeans is larger and prominent.
As the test does not involve speaking to actual users, we rely on data to tell us which page has performed better. So if we test more than one element, we won’t really understand which element has improved performance.
This means that CRO or A/B testing relies on a decent amount of traffic flowing into a website in order to test pages. Statistically speaking I would say it’s good to have 1000+ visitors go through both pages split 50/50 between the control and test page.
Make it a fair test
The limitation here is that this can take a while if you are a smaller business. The real danger for a smaller business is that they don’t allow enough visitors to be involved in the test before they decide a certain page has ‘won’.
Warning: Don’t make the mistake of making a certain page the control page when in reality, the test wasn’t run long enough to be certain.
Some tools such as Visual Website Optimiser (VWO) help with this as they will give you a likelihood of a test page winning after a certain amount of volume has gone through the test.
This will help to determine whether to end a test sooner or not if it is clear the new test page isn’t going to win.
An alternative approach to speed up this process is called Multi-Variant Testing (MVT). Here you will have multiple test pages being tested against one another at once. You will need a high volume of traffic to do this, but this can help speed up the process of finding better performing pages sooner.
The drawback for me with CRO is that you are reliant on data to tell you which page has the better conversion., So you may end up with better performing pages, but you lack any real deep insight in understanding ‘why’ users prefer the better performing pages.
What about UX?
So how could UX help? Well for me UX is about understanding a users deeper motivations. Understand these and you unlock more personal, human insights around what someone wants from a website or app.
For example if our website example is showing a range of Jeans, colours, prices, and fits. How do we know which of these pieces of content is important and valuable to the user when they’re on the site? This is where testing with real users comes into its own.
Can a UX designer help?
There is a trend at the moment for brands to use a ‘UX designer’ to develop websites, pages, and journeys as they are supposed to be armed with a better understanding of how users use websites.
But how can a UX designer get into the mind of your target audience, unless they are the target audience?
For me, a UX designer can develop a page BUT only once they have insights from real users. They can then help you improve performance, but unless real user insights are involved, this process is no better than CRO or A/B testing.
The main benefit of UX and that is that you can use insights BEFORE building a website to draw out the elements that will see it perform better once it launches.
UX can also be used to improve existing websites in the same way. Unlike CRO which is a practice only used with an existing website.
So how do we use UX?
Let’s go back to our Jeans example. Here we would use what is called ‘web user testing’ which is a technique often used within the UX tool kit to gather insights from real users on how to improve a website.
It may seem crazy but 6 users alone will help you draw out 80% of core issues that cause confusion, frustration and or drop off of users from your website.
Here we simply have these users perform specific tasks on-site. As they go through this journey, we ask them questions to understand ‘why’ they are taking certain actions. We then repeat this process across competitor websites.
If you don’t have a website, you can always user test the competition. This will then help you create a stronger brief to give to a designer or UX designer to design your website.
Understanding user interactions in this depth, not only helps develop better page layouts but helps us understand how to execute the many variables in play.
For example, with content it will help draw out the tone and style to use, the type of information the user wants, the way they want to consume the content and so on.
For me, the biggest advantage of user testing is that it helps you get to the ‘truth’ of how best to develop the best website experience for customers.
One-size doesn’t fit all
It sounds odd but similar sectors need very different websites to perform. What works in one doesn’t always work in another.
For example, some recent web usability testing we ran for similar sectors saw one user from one sector wanting video explainers on landing pages to explain the product. In a very similar sector, having a video explainer was something that other users didn’t want at all.
The point here is that you cannot take findings from any web user testing and apply it to your own website. Instead, you need to test your sector alone to understand specifically how your users want to interact with your brand and website.
There are some generic usability rules that are universal and might help you. Probably the best-known is Shneiderman’s “Eight Golden Rules of Interface Design”
So in summary CRO vs UX.
- CRO tells you ‘what’ is happening, where UX helps explain ‘why’ it is happening
- CRO can only help improve existing websites, where UX can help with building new websites and improve current websites
- CRO can be long and drawn out dependent on the volume of visitors hitting your website, where UX and web user testing can be undertaken within 2 to 3 weeks and provide great insights to make more informed decisions
- In a perfect world utilize both in combination; gather the real insights to create test pages and test against a control page.
So in my world, it’s not a case of CRO vs UX it’s about using them both in concert to give your users the very best online experience possible. And one that drives great conversion rates and in turn, sales.